Cheryl Wakerhauser likes to say she owns one of the weirdest restaurants in the world: half-bar, half patisserie. She arrived in Portland as a French-trained pastry chef and, in her first restaurant, found compelling pairings between desserts and Belgian beers. This led to savory foods and to wine, notably sparkling wine. Today, her Portland restaurant, Bar Vivant, specializes in pintxos—“the food that fits on a napkin and then you throw the napkin on the floor”—and sparkling wines: a full 1,200 of them.
You’re a sherry ambassador, but you’re known for Champagne:
For sparkling wine, yes. We have 1,200 selections. A few years ago [in 2014] we got a mention from World of Fine Wine for having the world’s best Champagne and sparkling wine list; people said “how can this be in Portland?” They don’t believe it. But, we’ve won it five times and now people who come through town stop. Every International Pinot Noir Celebration we see a big spike in Champagne sales.
Nine of your top ten best-selling wines are sparkling wines.
Yes, from all over. English sparkling wines have just come into the market from last year and they’re really great. You can get so much better quality prosecco, too. People think it’s just to put in orange juice, but it can be a very good wine. Cavas too. I have great local sparkling wines to draw from too—wines from Argyle, Soter, Analemma, and a few new ones; Mellen Meyer, and Rollie Soles from ROCO finally debuted his new sparkling wines. More and more, people are willing to try them.
But your real love is Champagne?
Last year we went from 420 to 620 different wines just from Champagne.
I went to Le Printemps des Champagnes in 2018 and it blew my mind. There’s so much to taste now, so many different wines—blanc des blancs, blanc des noirs, vintage, bottlings on different soils types, different plots, people are doing single parcel cuvees. It’s hard to keep up.
And your biggest success was a rare bottle, the Hebrart Champagne Spécial Club 2012:
We haven’t sold the most bottles of that wine, but I’d say we have the most interest. The ’12 came out last year and it’s spectacular. Word’s gotten out about what he’s doing; it’s an amazing wine.
What trends are you seeing?
Half bottles work well. People come in after dinner for a dessert and a split; after they’ve had a bottle with dinner. We like to have a diverse selection of halfs, as many as 20 at any given time. You don’t have to go in for a big bottle or price. Late night we also sell a ton of Moscato d’Asti; people come for a pastry after they’ve gone to dinner.
photo by Dina Avila